Sunday, 23 May 2010

When Jake Went

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As an exercise, I wanted to write a short story with one particular theme, but using another theme as a focal point. I chose a father-daughter relationship as the underlying theme, with the loss of a family pet as a focal point.

This was a first for me, in a number of respects. I normally write in third person, as I find this less restrictive in use of constructs and vocabulary, but for this piece, since I was dealing with the character's feelings, I decided to write in first person for the first time. I'm a middle-aged male, so it was quite a challenge to write this from the point of view of a pre-teen female. The genres I normally write in are fantasy, science fiction and occasionally suspense, but this was more of an emotional piece, so rather than sit and plan the story out to begin with, I decided what I wanted it to say, what direction I wanted it to go in, and then I sat down and wrote from the heart, (or from somebody else's heart,) as accurately as I could.

Let me know what you think.

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When Jake Went


I was seven when we got Jake, though I’d known him for a few years before then. He lived with Mary, the old lady who used to live at the corner, and every time I passed her house, he’d either be looking out of her window from the back of an armchair or running down the path to see me. It made me laugh the way he’d shake his whole rear half from side to side as he approached me, as though just wagging his tail wasn’t quite enough.

I think Mary had us in mind when it came to finding a new home for Jake. She didn’t ever say as much, but she made sure she told us about how she thought it was best for her to go out to join her daughter in Canada, and about how much she worried about finding a good home for Jake, as she couldn’t possibly take him with her.

Of course, I asked Mum and Dad if we could have Jake. Even Mum didn’t seem very keen, and Dad dismissed the idea immediately.  The problem with Dad was that he was stubborn and a little selfish: once he’d made his mind up about something, it was almost impossible to persuade him to change it. He’d never listen to me, no matter how much I pleaded with him. It was a different matter with Mum: She could always get Dad to see things from her point of view, and luckily for me, I was very good at persuading Mum to give me what I wanted.

I’d been upstairs all day sulking because I really wanted Jake and Dad kept on saying no. Mum came up to see how I was and I hugged her, and cried my eyes out saying things like: “I really need a dog. Other people at school have dogs, and they’re not half as lonely as I am. They have brothers and sisters at home, but I have nobody. I need Jake”

“You have me and Dad,” Mum replied.

“It isn’t the same,” I said. “I love Jake. He’s a lovely dog and he’s my friend. I want him to live here with us.”

Mum looked at me and shook her head. I knew then that I was getting to her.

“I’ll look after him myself,” I said. “I’ll feed him and take him for walks. At least say that you’ll think about it, Mum.”

Mum sighed, “We’ll see. But I don’t think your Dad will think it’s such a good idea.”

Mum went downstairs again after telling me that lunch would be ready in about twenty minutes. After a moment or two I could hear Mum and Dad talking and thought I’d leave them to it for a while.

When I went downstairs later, I stood outside the sitting room for a while before I opened the door, listening to Mum and Dad’s conversation.

“You had a dog when you were a boy,” Mum was saying. “Think of how close you were to your dog; surely you’d like that for your daughter too,” Mum was saying.

“Yes,” said Dad, “I have some lovely memories of Rufus, but I also remember how awful I felt when that car hit him and he died; and I was fifteen. How’s she going to handle it at her age, if something like that happens?”

“It’s called life,” Mum said, “Things like that are all experiences that she’s going to come across sooner or later. We can’t shield her from things like that forever.”

“I’m thinking it might happen sooner rather than later though,” Dad said. “Mary has had that dog for years, and it wasn’t a puppy when she first took it in. Who knows how old it is?”

Things weren’t going well. I walked into the sitting room and Mum said that lunch was nearly ready. I tried my hardest to look as sad as I possibly could, but it had no effect on Dad. Every so often I’d look at Mum so that she could see the tears in my eyes, and once or twice, she’d reach out and touch my hand as she gave me a sympathetic smile.

That night as I was getting ready for bed, Mum came into my bedroom and said to me: “How about we get you a puppy: a puppy of your own?

At last! I was getting somewhere. If Mum was suggesting something like that, then she was probably having some success working on Dad. “But I don’t want a puppy,” I said. “I want Jake.”

Mum sighed and went downstairs.

Days later, Dad finally weakened and Mum told me that we could take Jake in when Mary emigrated later that month. I knew that Dad wasn’t too happy about it, but Mum and I had won.

Having my own dog was wonderful. We’d play in the garden, and in the evenings I’d sit on the sitting room carpet, cuddling and stroking him. Sometimes he’d jump up onto the couch next to where I was sitting, but Dad made sure he got down right away. He wouldn’t even consider letting Jake on the furniture and would shout a lot every time the dog jumped onto a chair. It fell to Mum to feed Jake, but I’d take him out for walks on fine days, and sometimes we’d play outside with my friends who’d often bring their dogs along too.

Unfortunately, Jake wasn’t the best behaved of dogs. He was friendly and gentle enough, but having once been a stray, he’d never been totally housebroken, so he’d occasionally leave little ‘presents’ or puddles in the kitchen. I never once had to clean it up; Mum would always make sure that she did, before Dad saw it. He’d have gone mad if he’d known, and would probably have got rid of Jake. My Dad was like that.

In the spring and summer, if Mum was busy and I had homework to do, or if Mum and I were watching something particularly slushy on the television, Dad would go for a walk himself and often take Jake along with him. When they got back, Jake would go berserk: he was so pleased to see me, as if he’d been away for days rather than just an hour or two. Dad would often look a little red and flustered. He’d explain to mum: “I let him off his lead in the park for a while, and it’s not easy to get it back on him to come home.” Mum always smiled, and told me later that she thought Dad had spent some time playing with Jake, but I think she was wrong. I was sure, that even though Dad had got used to Jake, he didn’t really like him that much.

When I was eleven, Jake slowed down and was nowhere near as active as he used to be. He went off his food. He still ate, but not with the enthusiasm he used to. As the days passed, Jake got slower and weaker and Mum and I got more and more worried about him.

It was early in January, and it soon became clear that he was really ill. Mum said that she’d make an appointment at the vet’s for him in the morning, and that she’d make up a bed for him in the sitting room that night, since it was warmer than the kitchen. I said that I wanted to sit up with him, but Dad said no. I stayed up a little later, but come ten o’clock Dad packed me off to bed, regardless of how much I was worried about my dog.

I was sure I wouldn’t sleep, so I actually felt a little guilty when I did; I’d keep on waking up, worrying about Jake, but I was so sleepy that I soon went over again. Then about 3:30 in the morning I woke up again and decided to go downstairs to check on Jake.

I’d only just opened the sitting room door, when I noticed Dad was there. “What do you think you’re doing downstairs?” he said.

“I’m just checking Jake is ok,” I replied. “What about you?”

“I came down to get a glass of water,” he said. “Jake’s fine. Now give him a little cuddle, and then get yourself back to bed.”

“But can’t I stay downstairs with him?” I asked.

“No!” Dad insisted and ushered me back into the hallway and toward the stairs. Sometimes I really hated my Dad.

The next morning, when I got up, Dad had already left for work. Mum said that he was starting early because he thought he might have to leave early. I didn’t want to go to school, and Mum said that even though she understood how I was feeling, that Dad had insisted before he left, that I should definitely go in today.

I went to school after reminding Mum to make the Vet’s appointment, even though I knew she wouldn’t forget. I rushed home at lunchtime and Mum told me that the vet was seeing Jake at 3 pm.

That afternoon, I risked getting into trouble. I skipped the last lesson and raced home so that I could go to the vet’s with Mum, but when I got home, the house was locked up and Mum had already left, so I started the walk to the Vet’s by myself.

When I arrived there, Mum was sitting in the waiting room with Jake on her lap. Dad was there too, discussing something with the vet. When I walked in, Mum and Dad both saw me, and then Dad and the vet went into another room to continue their conversation.

On the way home, Jake sat with me in the back of the car. He looked so ill, and so sad. “Are vets expensive?” I asked mum. “If you can’t afford his treatment, I have that money in the bank that Gran sent me. You can have that.”

“No it’s ok darling,” said Mum. “We won’t need your money.”

“But if it means we can afford better treatment for him...” I started to say.

“Look,” snapped Dad. “We won’t need your money because we’ve already paid the vet.” I didn’t know why he was angry with me.

“But you’ll need to pay again when he goes back won’t you?” I said.

“He isn’t going back again. Now just leave it.” Dad seemed really angry. Mum just turned to me and put her finger to her lips as a signal for me to be quiet. Then she half turned toward Dad and slowly shook her head a little. Dad could be an absolute pain sometimes.

We made up the bed for Jake again that night, and I gave him an extra big cuddle. I put my face down next to his, and he licked my cheek. “Don’t kiss the dog!” Dad snapped, but I didn’t care what he said. Only Jake was important to me at that moment.

I didn’t realise it then, but that was the last time I would see Jake alive.

Mum woke me early the next morning, and I knew immediately that she’d been crying. I raced downstairs and there was no sign of Jake. He’d died during the night.

“Where is he?” I asked through my tears.

“He’s in the spare room. Dad put him there until the vet can collect him later this morning,” Mum replied.

“Why?” I demanded. “I want him to be buried in the garden.”

“That isn’t practical darling,” Mum said. “Dad’s going away on a business trip in a couple of hours and doesn’t have time to bury him. And it can’t wait until he comes back.”

“Then we’ll do it. I’ll do it. Where is Dad anyway?”

“Dad’s upstairs catching an extra hour sleep before he has to go. He has a long drive ahead of him. It’s too dark yet to be out in the garden, and it’s best if the vet collects him. We arranged it yesterday.”

That was typical of Dad, catching extra sleep despite how upset Mum and I were over Jake dying. And if they’d arranged it yesterday, Dad must have already written off Jake’s chances. That’s probably why he didn’t think the expense of further visits to the vet was worthwhile. Right at that moment, I absolutely hated Dad.

I stayed home from school that day. I was too upset to go in, and to be honest, I was still scared about getting into trouble for leaving early the previous day. No doubt Dad would really tear into me about that too, when he got back from his trip.

I cried for hours that day, and when Mum and I finally decided that we could manage to eat something late that evening, we sat together at the table, both still visibly upset.

“It’s really odd not having Jake around,” I said to Mum. “I keep expecting to feel him nudging me under the table.”

“Yes love,” Mum replied. “It does feel a little strange. Just the two of us for the next couple of days though.” She paused a little and then added: “Then when your Dad gets home in a couple of days, it will be just the three of us from then on.”

“I don’t care if Dad never comes back,” I said. Then I saw the look of shock on Mum’s face, so I added: “No, I don’t mean it like that, but at least the two of us here both really cared about Jake. Dad wasn’t bothered at all.”

Mum got up from the table and beckoned me to follow her into the sitting room. She asked me to sit on the couch with her, then she put her arms around me and cuddled me. “You know,” she said, “you have it wrong about your Dad.”

“How do you mean?” I asked.

Mum then explained how Dad had stayed downstairs with Jake for the last two nights running, and that the extra hour of sleep he’d grabbed that morning was pretty much all he’d had altogether.

She told me how on the first night, he’d spent some of the time with Jake on his lap on this very couch, and had stroked him all night; how he’d left work early yesterday, especially so that he could be at the vet’s when she took him. She told me, why one visit to the vet’s had been enough, and why Dad has been so upset and angry on the way home.

The vet had examined Jake and declared that he was dying, that he was just very old and didn’t have much longer left. Dad had insisted that if there was anything to be done, it should be done, regardless of the expense.

The vet had said: “There’s nothing we can really do at all. It may be best if I just put him to sleep now.”

Dad had asked: “Is he in pain?” to which the vet had replied: “Not that I can tell, no.”

“Is he suffering in any way?” Dad had asked.

“No,” the vet had replied, “he’s just very weak indeed. He has only hours left, so he’s just going to fade away little by little. He’s a very old dog. It might be best to just let him die with dignity.”

“So what’s so dignified about putting him down?” Dad had asked. “Surely it’s best if the time he has left is spent with people he loves and who love him?”

The vet had shrugged and pointed out that it was Dad’s decision to make, but that he thought it might be more convenient for everyone to put Jake to sleep. Dad lost his temper, and told the vet that it wasn’t about convenience, it was about losing one of the family, and he would never kill a member of the family for convenience’ sake.

Mum told me that she’d come downstairs last night, to find that Dad had made himself up a makeshift bed on a blanket on the floor next to Jake’s. He was lying really close to the dog, with his face against Jake’s. Sleep had finally got the better of him and the two of them were sleeping on the floor alongside each other. Dad woke up as Mum watched them and sat up, very apologetic for nodding off. As he checked that Jake was ok, Mum noticed that the blanket where Dad’s head had been resting was wet from his tears.

Dad woke Mum later, about a half hour before she woke me. Jake had died. Mum was upset, but Dad was probably more upset than her. She hugged him as he cried, then they moved Jake’s body into the spare room. Mum had insisted that Dad went to bed for an hour or two before he started his long drive.

Two days later I was sitting on my bed when Dad arrived home. I heard him and Mum chatting downstairs for a while, then he knocked on my bedroom door, walked into my room and sat on the bed beside me.

“How’s things?” he said. “Are you feeling ok now?”

“I’m feeling a lot better,” I said as I browsed through the photographs of Jake that were spread out on my bed.

“I suppose you’ll be wanting that puppy now, eh?” said Dad.

I looked at him and smiled. I could see then that his eyes were glazed, and the redness around them made it look as though he’d cried almost as much as I had.

“I don’t think I’ll bother with a puppy, Dad,” I said. “Let’s just enjoy our memories of Jake instead eh?”

Dad kind of half smiled. I could see that he was trying not to cry. I threw my arms around him to hug him. As we held each other, I felt his strong arms squeezing me tight, and felt the cold wetness on my shoulder, as the tears flowed from his eyes.

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